Rural Matters: Part of God’s Plan to Transform Our Communities and Our World

Rural churches are at a crossroads. They are facing a generational shift, which, if not navigated well and led by the Spirit, will lead to the dying of many churches.

Many denominations, networks, and pastors of large mission-sending churches today have taken rural America off their radar, choosing instead to focus on urban centers.

Don’t misunderstand, it makes sense for denominations and networks to focus on cities, where the per capita population can produce the greater return for our investment of outreach and ministry resources. When we look at the Apostle Paul, he too seemed to have a strategy which centered on larger urban centers.

Yet, we can do more than just urban.

However, by all outward appearances, many seemed to have left their strategy books for rural churches on a dusty shelf. But that’s not necessarily the case and, I would advise, should not be the case. The good news is that we can do both (and more). And Paul likely did minister to people in non-urban settings.

I, too, care deeply about the rural churches, and so should you.

According to a PBS article, 46.2 million people (roughly 15% of the U.S. population) reside in rural America. That is 46 million people who have been, or who can be, impacted by the gospel.

In most places of the world, there is a higher proportion of people who are Christian in rural areas than in urban centers. How are we caring for them and equipping them for their mission in today’s world? How are they being discipled and taught to reach those around them?

These are questions I’ve been asking, and questions which led us at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism to launch a “Rural Matters” focus, a resource and networking group for pastors and leaders in rural churches.

I am convinced that if we are to support the whole Church, then we need to focus on those in lesser populated areas as well as urban centers. Those in rural settings face similar challenges that we all face, but are also unique in some ways.

The truth is, rural families are dissolving just as urban families are dissolving.

Critical problems such as drug addiction, pornography, racial tensions, broken relationships, lack of job opportunities, and more are widespread. And a number of pastors and leaders in rural churches, just like pastors in other unique settings, are not equipped to support their congregations, let alone reach out to those struggling outside the church, and without God.

So let’s focus on the cities.

But let’s never do so to the detriment of those in rural areas and suburbs. Rural America, whether white or black or other, is a critical part of God’s plan to see our world reached for Jesus.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles & books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Executive Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than one million individuals each week. Stetzer is also Executive Editor of Facts & Trends Magazine, a Christian leadership magazine with a circulation of more than 70,000 readers. In 2015, he began serving as the co-host of the BreakPoint This Week radio program with John Stonestreet. He also serves as Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has taught at many other colleges and seminaries.